The H.264/AVC Advanced Video Coding Standard: Overview and ...
Presented at the SPIE Conference on Applications of Digital Image Processing XXVII
Special Session on Advances in the New Emerging Standard: H.264/AVC, August, 2004
The H.264/AVC Advanced Video Coding Standard:
Overview and Introduction to the Fidelity Range Extensions
Gary J. Sullivan*, Pankaj Topiwala†, and Ajay Luthra‡
Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052
FastVDO LLC, 7150 Riverwood Dr., Columbia, MD 21046
Motorola Inc., BCS, 6420 Sequence Dr., San Diego, CA 92121
H.264/MPEG-4 AVC is the latest international video coding standard. It was jointly developed by the Video Coding
Experts Group (VCEG) of the ITU-T and the Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) of ISO/IEC. It uses state-of-the-art
coding tools and provides enhanced coding efficiency for a wide range of applications, including video telephony, video
conferencing, TV, storage (DVD and/or hard disk based, especially high-definition DVD), streaming video, digital video
authoring, digital cinema, and many others. The work on a new set of extensions to this standard has recently been
completed. These extensions, known as the Fidelity Range Extensions (FRExt), provide a number of enhanced
capabilities relative to the base specification as approved in the Spring of 2003. In this paper, an overview of this
standard is provided, including the highlights of the capabilities of the new FRExt features. Some comparisons with the
existing MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 Part 2 standards are also provided.
Keywords: Advanced Video Coding (AVC), Digital Video Compression, H.263, H.264, JVT, MPEG, MPEG-2,
MPEG-4, MPEG-4 part 10, VCEG.
Since the early 1990s, when the technology was in its infancy, international video coding standards – chronologically,
H.261 , MPEG-1 , MPEG-2 / H.262 , H.263 , and MPEG-4 (Part 2)  – have been the engines behind the
commercial success of digital video compression. They have played pivotal roles in spreading the technology by
providing the power of interoperability among products developed by different manufacturers, while at the same time
allowing enough flexibility for ingenuity in optimizing and molding the technology to fit a given application and making
the cost-performance trade-offs best suited to particular requirements. They have provided much-needed assurance to
the content creators that their content will run everywhere and they do not have to create and manage multiple copies of
the same content to match the products of different manufacturers. They have allowed the economy of scale to allow
steep reduction in cost for the masses to be able to afford the technology. They have nurtured open interactions among
experts from different companies to promote innovation and to keep pace with the implementation technology and the
needs of the applications.
ITU-T H.264 / MPEG-4 (Part 10) Advanced Video Coding (commonly referred as H.264/AVC)  is the newest entry
in the series of international video coding standards. It is currently the most powerful and state-of-the-art standard, and
was developed by a Joint Video Team (JVT) consisting of experts from ITU-T’s Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG)
and ISO/IEC’s Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG). As has been the case with past standards, its design provides
the most current balance between the coding efficiency, implementation complexity, and cost – based on state of VLSI
design technology (CPU's, DSP's, ASIC's, FPGA's, etc.). In the process, a standard was created that improved coding
efficiency by a factor of at least about two (on average) over MPEG-2 – the most widely used video coding standard
today – while keeping the cost within an acceptable range. In July, 2004, a new amendment was added to this standard,
called the Fidelity Range Extensions (FRExt, Amendment 1), which demonstrates even further coding efficiency against
MPEG-2, potentially by as much as 3:1 for some key applications. In this paper, we develop an outline of the first
version of the H.264/AVC standard, and provide an introduction to the newly-minted extension, which, for reasons we
explain, is already receiving wide attention in the industry.
1.1. H.264/AVC History
H.264/AVC was developed over a period of about four years. The roots of this standard lie in the ITU-T’s H.26L
project initiated by the Video Coding Experts Group (VCEG), which issued a Call for Proposals (CfP) in early 1998 and
created a first draft design for its new standard in August of 1999. In 2001, when ISO/IEC’s Moving Pictures Experts
Group (MPEG) had finished development of its most recent video coding standard, known as MPEG-4 Part 2, it issued a
similar CfP to invite new contributions to further improve the coding efficiency beyond what was achieved on that
project. VCEG chose to provide its draft design in response to MPEG's CfP and proposed joining forces to complete the
work. Several other proposals were also submitted and were tested by MPEG as well. As a result of those tests, MPEG
made the following conclusions that affirmed the design choices made by VCEG for H.26L:
The motion compensated Discrete Cosine Transform (DCT) structure was superior to others, implying
there was no need, at least at that stage, to make fundamental structural changes for the next generation of
Some video coding tools that had been excluded in the past (for MPEG-2, H.263, or MPEG-4 Part 2) due
to their complexity (hence implementation cost) could be re-examined for inclusion in the next standard.
The VLSI technology had advanced significantly since the development of those standards and this had
significantly reduced the implementation cost of those coding tools. (This was not a "blank check" for
compression at all costs, as a number of compromises were still necessary for complexity reasons, but it
was a recognition that some of the complexity constraints that governed past work could be re-examined.)
To allow maximum freedom of improving the coding efficiency, the syntax of the new coding standard
could not be backward compatible with prior standards.
ITU-T’s H.26L was a top-performing proposal, and most others that showed good performance in MPEG
had also been based on H.26L (as it had become well-known as an advance in technology by that time).
Therefore, to allow speedy progress, ITU-T and ISO/IEC agreed to join forces together to jointly develop the next
generation of video coding standard and use H.26L as the starting point. A Joint Video Team (JVT), consisting of
experts from VCEG and MPEG, was formed in December, 2001, with the goal of completing the technical development
of the standard by 2003. ITU-T planned to adopt the standard under the name of ITU-T H.264, and ISO/IEC planned to
adopt the standard as MPEG-4 Part 10 Advanced Video Coding (AVC), in the MPEG-4 suite of standards formally
designated as ISO/IEC 14496. As an unwanted byproduct, this standard gets referred to by at least six different names –
H.264, H.26L, ISO/IEC 14496-10, JVT, MPEG-4 AVC and MPEG-4 Part 10. In this paper we refer it as H.264/AVC as
a balance between the names used in the two organizations.
With the wide breadth of applications considered by the two organizations, the application focus for the work was
correspondingly broad – from video conferencing to entertainment (broadcasting over cable, satellite, terrestrial, cable
modem, DSL etc.; storage on DVDs and hard disks; video on demand etc.) to streaming video, surveillance and military
applications, and digital cinema. Three basic feature sets called profiles were established to address these application
domains: the Baseline, Main, and Extended profiles. The Baseline profile was designed to minimize complexity and
provide high robustness and flexibility for use over a broad range of network environments and conditions; the Main
profile was designed with an emphasis on compression coding efficiency capability; and the Extended profile was
designed to combine the robustness of the Baseline profile with a higher degree of coding efficiency and greater network
robustness and to add enhanced modes useful for special "trick uses" for such applications as flexible video streaming.
1.2. The FRExt Amendment
While having a broad range of applications, the initial H.264/AVC standard (as it was completed in May of 2003), was
primarily focused on "entertainment-quality" video, based on 8-bits/sample, and 4:2:0 chroma sampling. Given its time
constraints, it did not include support for use in the most demanding professional environments, and the design had not
been focused on the highest video resolutions. For applications such as content-contribution, content-distribution, and
studio editing and post-processing, it may be necessary to
Use more than 8 bits per sample of source video accuracy
Use higher resolution for color representation than what is typical in consumer applications (i.e., to use
4:2:2 or 4:4:4 sampling as opposed to 4:2:0 chroma sampling format)
Perform source editing functions such as alpha blending (a process for blending of multiple video scenes,
best known for use in weather reporting where it is used to super-impose video of a newscaster over video
of a map or weather-radar scene)
Use very high bit rates
Use very high resolution
Achieve very high fidelity – even representing some parts of the video losslessly
Avoid color-space transformation rounding error
Use RGB color representation
To address the needs of these most-demanding applications, a continuation of the joint project was launched to add new
extensions to the capabilities of the original standard. This effort took about one year to complete – starting with a first
draft in May of 2003, the final design decisions were completed in July of 2004, and the editing period will be completed
in August or September of 2004. These extensions, originally known as the "professional" extensions, were eventually
renamed as the "fidelity range extensions" (FRExt) to better indicate the spirit of the extensions.
In the process of designing the FRExt amendment, the JVT was able to go back and re-examine several prior technical
proposals that had not been included in the initial standard due to scheduling constraints, uncertainty about benefits, or
the original scope of intended applications. With the additional time afforded by the extension project, it was possible to
include some of those features in the new extensions. Specifically, these included:
Supporting an adaptive block-size for the residual spatial frequency transform,
Supporting encoder-specified perceptual-based quantization scaling matrices, and
Supporting efficient lossless representation of specific regions in video content.
The FRExt project produced a suite of four new profiles collectively called the High profiles:
The High profile (HP), supporting 8-bit video with 4:2:0 sampling, addressing high-end consumer use and
other applications using high-resolution video without a need for extended chroma formats or extended
The High 10 profile (Hi10P), supporting 4:2:0 video with up to 10 bits of representation accuracy per
The High 4:2:2 profile (H422P), supporting up to 4:2:2 chroma sampling and up to 10 bits per sample, and
The High 4:4:4 profile (H444P), supporting up to 4:4:4 chroma sampling, up to 12 bits per sample, and
additionally supporting efficient lossless region coding and an integer residual color transform for coding
RGB video while avoiding color-space transformation error
All of these profiles support all features of the prior Main profile, and additionally support an adaptive transform block-
size and perceptual quantization scaling matrices.
Initial industry feedback has been dramatic in its rapid embrace of FRExt. The High profile appears certain to be
incorporated into several important near-term application specifications, particularly including
The HD-DVD specification of the DVD Forum
The BD-ROM Video specification of the Blu-ray Disc Association, and
The DVB (digital video broadcast) standards for European broadcast television
Several other environments may soon embrace it as well (e.g., the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) in
the U.S., and various designs for satellite and cable television). Indeed, it appears that the High profile may rapidly
overtake the Main profile in terms of dominant near-term industry implementation interest. This is because the High
profile adds more coding efficiency to what was previously defined in the Main profile, without adding a significant
amount of implementation complexity.
2. CODING TOOLS
At a basic overview level, the coding structure of this standard is similar to that of all prior major digital video standards
(H.261, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 / H.262, H.263 or MPEG-4 part 2). The architecture and the core building blocks of the
encoder are shown in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2, indicating that it is also based on motion-compensated DCT-like transform
coding. Each picture is compressed by partitioning it as one or more slices; each slice consists of macroblocks, which
are blocks of 16x16 luma samples with corresponding chroma samples. However, each macroblock is also divided into
sub-macroblock partitions for motion-compensated prediction. The prediction partitions can have seven different sizes –
16x16, 16x8, 8x16, 8x8, 8x4, 4x8 and 4x4. In past standards, motion compensation used entire macroblocks or, in the
case of newer designs, 16x16 or 8x8 partitions, so the larger variety of partition shapes provides enhanced prediction
accuracy. The spatial transform for the residual data is then either 8x8 (a size supported only in FRExt) or 4x4. In past
major standards, the transform block size has always been 8x8, so the 4x4 block size provides an enhanced specificity in
locating residual difference signals. The block size used for the spatial transform is always either the same or smaller
than the block size used for prediction. The hierarchy of a video sequence, from sequence to samples1 is given by:
sequence (pictures (slices (macroblocks (macroblock partitions (sub-macroblock partitions (blocks (samples)))))).
In addition, there may be additional structures such as packetization schemes, channel codes, etc., which relate to the
delivery of the video data, not to mention other data streams such as audio. As the video compression tools primarily
work at or below the slice layer, bits associated with the slice layer and below are identified as Video Coding Layer
(VCL) and bits associated with higher layers are identified as Network Abstraction Layer (NAL) data. VCL data and the
highest levels of NAL data can be sent together as part of one single bitstream or can be sent separately. The NAL is
designed to fit a variety of delivery frameworks (e.g., broadcast, wireless, storage media). Herein, we only discuss the
VCL, which is the heart of the compression capability. While an encoder block diagram is shown in Fig. 1, the decoder
conceptually works in reverse, comprising primarily an entropy decoder and the processing elements of the region
shaded in Fig. 1.
Input Video C
+ Scaling/ Quant. m
Scaling/ Inv .Quant./ s
Inv. Transform s
Intra (Spatial) i
Decoded Video b
Motion Vector Info t
Fig. 1: High-level encoder architecture
We use the terms sample and pixel interchangeably, although sample may sometimes be more rigorously correct.
Prediction 2-D Transform Quantization
Scanning VLC /
Fig. 2: Higher-level encoder block diagram
In the first version of the standard, only the 4:2:0 chroma format (typically derived by performing an RGB-to-YCbCr
color-space transformation and subsampling the chroma components by a factor of 2:1 both horizontally and vertically)
and only 8 bit sample precision for luma and chroma values was supported. The FRExt amendment extended the
standard to 4:2:2 and 4:4:4 chroma formats and higher than 8 bits precision, with optional support of auxiliary pictures
for such purposes as alpha blending composition.
The basic unit of the encoding or decoding process is the macroblock. In 4:2:0 chroma format, each macroblock consists
of a 16x16 region of luma samples and two corresponding 8x8 chroma sample arrays. In a macroblock of 4:2:2 chroma
format video, the chroma sample arrays are 8x16 in size; and in a macroblock of 4:4:4 chroma format video, they are
16x16 in size.
Slices in a picture are compressed by using the following coding tools:
"Intra" spatial (block based) prediction
o Full-macroblock luma or chroma prediction – 4 modes (directions) for prediction
o 8x8 (FRExt-only) or 4x4 luma prediction – 9 modes (directions) for prediction
"Inter" temporal prediction – block based motion estimation and compensation
o Multiple reference pictures
o Reference B pictures
o Arbitrary referencing order
o Variable block sizes for motion compensation
Seven block sizes: 16x16, 16x8, 8x16, 8x8, 8x4, 4x8 and 4x4
o 1/4-sample luma interpolation (1/4 or 1/8th-sample chroma interpolation)
o Weighted prediction
o Frame or Field based motion estimation for interlaced scanned video
Interlaced coding features
o Frame-field adaptation
Picture Adaptive Frame Field (PicAFF)
MacroBlock Adaptive Frame Field (MBAFF)
o Field scan
Lossless representation capability
o Intra PCM raw sample-value macroblocks
o Entropy-coded transform-bypass lossless macroblocks (FRExt-only)
8x8 (FRExt-only) or 4x4 integer inverse transform (conceptually similar to the well-known DCT)
Residual color transform for efficient RGB coding without conversion loss or bit expansion (FRExt-only)
Encoder-specified perceptually weighted quantization scaling matrices (FRExt-only)
Logarithmic control of quantization step size as a function of quantization control parameter
Deblocking filter (within the motion compensation loop)
o Zig-Zag (Frame)
Lossless Entropy coding
o Universal Variable Length Coding (UVLC) using Exp-Golomb codes
o Context Adaptive VLC (CAVLC)
o Context-based Adaptive Binary Arithmetic Coding (CABAC)
Error Resilience Tools
o Flexible Macroblock Ordering (FMO)
o Arbitrary Slice Order (ASO)
o Redundant Slices
SP and SI synchronization pictures for streaming and other uses
Various color spaces supported (YCbCr of various types, YCgCo, RGB, etc. – especially in FRExt)
4:2:0, 4:2:2 (FRExt-only), and 4:4:4 (FRExt-only) color formats
Auxiliary pictures for alpha blending (FRExt-only)
Of course, each slice need not use all of the above coding tools. Depending upon on the subset of coding tools used, a
slice can be of I (Intra), P (Predicted), B (Bi-predicted), SP (Switching P) or SI (Switching I) type. A picture may
contain different slice types, and pictures come in two basic types – reference and non-reference pictures. Reference
pictures can be used as references for interframe prediction during the decoding of later pictures (in bitstream order) and
non-reference pictures cannot. (It is noteworthy that, unlike in prior standards, pictures that use bi-prediction can be
used as references just like pictures coded using I or P slices.) In the next section we describe the coding tools used for
these different slice types.
This standard is designed to perform well for both progressive-scan and interlaced-scan video. In interlaced-scan video,
a frame consists of two fields – each captured at ½ the frame duration apart in time. Because the fields are captured with
significant time gap, the spatial correlation among adjacent lines of a frame is reduced in the parts of picture containing
moving objects. Therefore, from coding efficiency point of view, a decision needs to be made whether to compress
video as one single frame or as two separate fields. H.264/AVC allows that decision to be made either independently for
each pair of vertically-adjacent macroblocks or independently for each entire frame. When the decisions are made at the
macroblock-pair level, this is called MacroBlock Adaptive Frame-Field (MBAFF) coding and when the decisions are
made at the frame level then this is called Picture-Adaptive Frame-Field (PicAFF) coding. Notice that in MBAFF,
unlike in the MPEG-2 standard, the frame or field decision is made for the vertical macroblock-pair and not for each
individual macroblock. This allows retaining a 16x16 size for each macroblock and the same size for all sub-
macroblock partitions – regardless of whether the macroblock is processed in frame or field mode and regardless of
whether the mode switching is at the picture level or the macroblock-pair level.
In I-slices (and in intra macroblocks of non-I slices) pixel values are first spatially predicted from their neighboring pixel
values. After spatial prediction, the residual information is transformed using a 4x4 transform or an 8x8 transform
(FRExt-only) and then quantized. In FRExt, the quantization process supports encoder-specified perceptual-based
quantization scaling matrices to optimize the quantization process according to the visibility of the specific frequency
associated with each transform coefficient. Quantized coefficients of the transform are scanned in one of the two
different ways (zig-zag or field scan) and are compressed by entropy coding using one of two methods – CAVLC or
CABAC. In PicAFF operation, each field is compressed in a manner analogous to the processing of an entire frame. In
MBAFF operation, if a macroblock pair is in field mode then the field neighbors are used for spatial prediction and if a
macroblock pair is in frame mode, frame neighbors are used for prediction. The frame or field decision is made before
applying the rest of the coding tools described below. Temporal prediction is not used in intra macroblocks, but it is for
P and B macroblock types, which is the main difference between these fundamental macroblock types. We therefore
review the structure of the codec for the I-slice first, and then review the key differences for P and B-slices later.
2.1.1. Intra Spatial Prediction
To exploit spatial correlation among pixels, three basic types of intra spatial prediction are defined:
Full-macroblock prediction for 16x16 luma or the corresponding chroma block size, or
8x8 luma prediction (FRExt-only), or
4x4 luma prediction.
For full-macroblock prediction, the pixel values of an entire macroblock of luma or chroma data are predicted from the
edge pixels of neighboring previously-decoded macroblocks (similar to what is shown in Fig. 3, but for a larger region
than the 4x4 region shown in the figure). Full-macroblock prediction can be performed in one of four different ways that
can be selected by the encoder for the prediction of each particular macroblock: (i) vertical, (ii) horizontal, (iii) DC and
(iv) planar. For the vertical and horizontal prediction types, the pixel values of a macroblock are predicted from the
pixels just above or to the left of the macroblock, respectively (like directions 0 and 1 in Fig. 3). In DC prediction
(prediction type number 2, not shown in Fig. 3), the luma values of the neighboring pixels are averaged and that average
value is used as predictor. In planar prediction (not shown in Fig. 3), a three-parameter curve-fitting equation is used to
form a prediction block having a brightness, slope in the horizontal direction, and slope in the vertical direction that
approximately matches the neighboring pixels.
Full-macroblock intra prediction is used for luma in a macroblock type called the intra 16x16 macroblock type. Chroma
intra prediction always operates using full-macroblock prediction. Because of differences in the size of the chroma
arrays for the macroblock in different chroma formats (i.e., 8x8 chroma in 4:2:0 macroblocks, 8x16 chroma in 4:2:2
macroblocks, and 16x16 chroma in 4:4:4 macroblocks), chroma prediction is defined for three possible block sizes. The
prediction type for the chroma is selected independently of the prediction type for the luma.
4x4 intra prediction for luma can be alternatively selected (on a macroblock-by-macroblock basis) by the encoder. In
4x4 spatial prediction mode, the values of each 4x4 block of luma samples are predicted from the neighboring pixels
above or left of a 4x4 block, and nine different directional ways of performing the prediction can be selected by the
encoder (on a 4x4 block basis) as illustrated in Fig. 3 (and including a DC prediction type numbered as mode 2, which is
not shown in the figure). Each prediction direction corresponds to a particular set of spatially-dependent linear
combinations of previously decoded samples for use as the prediction of each input sample.
In FRExt profiles, 8x8 luma intra prediction can also be selected. 8x8 intra prediction uses basically the same concepts
as 4x4 prediction, but with a prediction block size that is 8x8 rather than 4x4 and with low-pass filtering of the predictor
to improve prediction performance.
M A B C D E F G H
I a b c d
J e f g h
K i j k l
L m n o p
Fig. 3: Spatial prediction of a 4x4 block.
2.1.2. Transform and Quantization
After spatial prediction, a transform is applied to decorrelate the data spatially. There are several unique features about
the transform selected for this coding standard. Some of these features are listed below.
It is the first video standard fundamentally based on an integer inverse transform design for its main spatial
transforms, rather than using idealized trigonometric functions to define the inverse transform equations
and allowing implementation-specific approximations within some specified tolerances.2 The forward
transform that will typically be used for encoding is also an integer transform. A significant advantage of
the use of an integer is that, with an exact integer inverse transform, there is now no possibility of a
mismatch between then encoder and decoder, unlike for MPEG-2 and ordinary MPEG-4 part 2.
In fact, the transform is specified so that for 8-bit input video data, it can be easily implemented using only
16-bit arithmetic, rather than the 32-bit or greater precision needed for the transform specified in prior
The transform (at least for the 4x4 block size supported without FRExt) is designed to be so simple that it
can be implemented using just a few additions, subtractions, and bit shifts.
A 4x4 transform size is supported, rather than just 8x8. Inconsistencies between neighboring blocks will
thus occur at a smaller granularity, and thus tend to be less noticeable. Isolated features can be represented
with greater accuracy in spatial location (reducing a phenomenon known as "ringing"). For certain
hardware implementations, the small block size may also be particularly convenient.
Thus, while the macroblock size remains at 16x16, these are divided up into 4x4 or 8x8 blocks, and a 4x4 or 8x8 block
transformation matrix T4x4 or T8x8 is applied to every block of pixels, as given by:
8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
12 10 6 3 3 6 10 12
1 1 1 1 8 4 4 8 8 4 4 8
2 1 1 2 10 3 12 6 6 12 3 10
T4 x 4 , T8 x8
1 1 1 1 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8
1 2 2 1 6 12 3 10 10 3 12 6
4 8 8 4 4 8 8 4
10 12 12 10 6 3
The 4x4 transform is remarkably simple, and while the 8x8 transform (used in FRExt profiles only) is somewhat more
complex, it is still remarkably simple when compared to an ordinary 8x8 IDCT. The transform T is applied to each
block within the luma (16x16) and chroma (8x8, or in FRExt, 8x16 or 16x16) samples for a macroblock by segmenting
the full sample block size into smaller blocks for transformation as necessary.
In addition, when the 16x16 Intra prediction mode is used with the 4x4 transform, the DC coefficients of the sixteen 4x4
luma blocks in the macroblock are further selected and transformed by a secondary Hadamard transform using the H4x4
matrix shown below (note the basic similarity of T4x4 and H4x4). The DC coefficients of the 4x4 blocks of chroma
samples in all macroblock types are transformed using a secondary Hadamard transform as well. For 4:2:0 video, this
requires a 2x2 chroma DC transformation specified by the Hadamard matrix H2x2 (below); for 4:4:4, the chroma DC uses
MPEG-4 part 2 and JPEG2000 had previously included integer wavelet transforms. But JPEG2000 is an image coding
standard without support for interframe prediction, and in MPEG-4, the integer transforms are used only rarely for what
is called texture coding (somewhat equivalent to the usual I-frame coding, but not found in most implementations of
MPEG-4), and the main transform used for nearly all video data was still specified as an ideal 8x8 IDCT with rounding
tolerances. The integer transform concept had also been previously applied in H.263 Annex W, but only as an after-the-
fact patch to a prior specification in terms of the 8x8 floating point IDCT.
the same 4x4 Hadamard transformation as used for luma in 16x16 intra mode; and for 4:2:2 video, the chroma DC
transformation uses the matrices H2x2 and H4x4 to perform a 2x4 chroma DC secondary transformation.
1 1 11
1 1 1 1
H 2 x2 , H 4 x 4 .
1 1 1 1 1 1
1 1 1 1
The coefficients produced by the transformation are quantized using a quantization control parameter that can be
changed for every macroblock. The parameter can take one of the 52 possible values when video format supports 8 bits
per decoded sample. When supporting greater bit depth video content, FRExt expands the number of steps by 6 for each
additional bit of decoded sample accuracy. Importantly, the quantization step-sizes are not linearly related to the
quantization parameter (as in all prior standards), but vary in such a way that the quantization step size exactly doubles
for every 6 increments of the quantization parameter.
A default relationship is specified between the quantization step sizes used for luma and chroma, and the encoder can
adjust this relationship at the slice level to balance the desired fidelity of the color components. With the FRExt
amendment, the encoder can also balance the Cb and Cr fidelity separately relative to each other.
2.1.3. Perceptual-based quantization scaling matrices
The new FRExt amendment adds support for a feature that had been a mainstay of prior use in MPEG-2 – namely,
perceptual-based quantization scaling matrices. The encoder can specify, for each transform block size and separately
for intra and inter prediction, a customized scaling factor for use in inverse-quantization scaling by the decoder. This
allows tuning of the quantization fidelity according to a model of the sensitivity of the human visual system to different
types of error. It typically does not improve objective fidelity as measured by mean-squared error (or, equivalently,
PSNR), but it does improve subjective fidelity, which is really the more important criterion. Default values for the
quantization scaling matrices are specified in the standard, and the encoder can choose to instead use customized values
by sending a representation of those values at the sequence or picture level.
If a macroblock is compressed using the 4x4 transform in frame mode, the quantized coefficients of the transform are
scanned in the zig-zag fashion shown in Fig. 4a. This scan ordering is designed to order the highest-variance
coefficients first and to maximize the number of consecutive zero-valued coefficients appearing in the scan.
0 1 5 6 0 2 8 12
2 4 7 12 1 5 9 13
3 8 11 13 3 6 10 14
9 10 14 15 4 7 11 15
Fig. 4: Coefficient scanning order in (a) Frame and (b) Field modes
If a macroblock is compressed using the 4x4 transform in the field mode, the scanning order of the coefficients is
modified to be more efficient for field scanning as shown in Fig. 4b – reflecting the decreased correlation of the source
data in the vertical dimension. For other block sizes (8x8 for luma, 2x2 for 4:2:0 chroma DC, and 2x4 for 4:2:2 chroma
DC), the same basic concepts apply, with scan orders specified for each block size.
2.1.5. Entropy coding
Entropy coding is a term referring to lossless coding techniques that replace data elements with coded representations
which, in combination with the previously-described predictions, transformations, and quantization, can result in
significantly reduced data size (even though on its own, entropy coding can only reduce the data size modestly). Two
modes of entropy coding are used in this standard: variable length coding (VLC) and binary arithmetic coding (BAC).
In H.264/AVC, both of these designs are used in a context adaptive (CA) way, leading to the terms CAVLC and
CABAC. Syntax elements at and below the slice layer can be adaptively coded. As in previous standards, the
macroblock is the fundamental unit of the syntax and decoding process. Syntax elements include:
(a) higher-layer syntax elements for sequence, picture, and slice headers, which are coded using simple fixed-
length coding or a simple universal VLC (UVLC) code table;
(b) slice payload data such as slice length and macroblock skipping indicators (at and below which layer the
entropy codes CAVLC or CABAC are used);
(c) the macroblock type (mb_type);
(d) the macroblock's coded block pattern (CBP), which indicates which sets of 4x4 or 8x8 transform blocks have
non-zero coefficients (thus efficiently indicating which subblocks not to code);
(e) the macroblock quantization parameter, coded as a delta from the previous macroblock;
(f) reference frame indexes;
(g) motion vectors (MVs), sent as a delta from a prediction of the MV formed from neighboring data; and
(h) the quantized transform coefficients (from 8x8 or 4x4 transformations, or from secondary Hadamard
transformations applied to DC coefficients of lower-level 4x4 transformations).
The final two types of data comprise the bulk of the coded data. While at very low bitrates, (a)-(g) may be dominant; at
all higher rates, (h) is dominant, and it is in encoding the transform coefficients that context adaptivity is primarily
employed (in fact, in the case of CAVLC, context adaptivity is used only for transform coefficients).
18.104.22.168. VLC, UVLC and CAVLC coding
The principle idea of VLC is that when the data elements to be coded (whether quantized transform coefficients,
differential motion vectors, or other syntactic symbols) occur with unequal frequencies; frequently-occurring elements
can be assigned very short codes, while infrequent elements can be assigned longer codes (thus the term variable length
coding – which is often called Huffman coding since Huffman codes are the most well-known type of VLCs). For
syntax elements other than residual transform coefficients, a so-called universal VLC (UVLC) is used. Table 1 shows
the first nine elements of the Exp-Golomb Code table for given input data elements (here called codeNum). The
codeNum is typically an index to the actual data elements (e.g., signed elements such as motion vector differences are
mapped by interpreting codeNum values [0, 1, 2, 3, …] as integer differences [0, 1, -1, 2, …]). These codes have the
generic form of [K zeros][K-bit DATA], where DATA is a binary representation of an unsigned integer. Such a code
is decodable as codeNum = 2K + int(DATA) – 1, where int(DATA) is now the integer corresponding to the binary string.
While only the first nine elements are shown, the exp-Golomb code table is conceptually infinite in length. The actual
limits on the values of the coded syntax elements are specified by various constraints imposed in the standard.
- 10 -
Table 1: Exponential Golomb Code (for data elements other than transform coefficients – also called
Universal Variable Length Code)
But for greater efficiency in coding the abundant residual transform coefficients, this standard specifies twelve additional
code tables: six for characterizing the content of the transform block as a whole, four for indicating the number of
coefficients, one for indicating the overall magnitude of a quantized coefficient value (a code then suffixed by a context-
adaptive fixed-length code to identify the particular value), and one for representing consecutive runs of zero-valued
quantized coefficients. The selection among these tables and the length of the fixed-length coefficient value suffix is
based on the local statistics of the current stream – i.e., the context (thus CAVLC). Given the execution efficiency of
VLC tables, combined with this limited adaptivity to boost coding efficiency, this provides a nice tradeoff between speed
of execution and performance.
Context-based adaptive binary arithmetic coding (CABAC) is used the standard as a way of gaining additional
performance relative to CAVLC coding, at the cost of additional complexity. The CABAC mode has been shown to
increase compression efficiency by roughly 10% relative to the CAVLC mode, although CABAC is significantly more
computationally complex. Here the use of arithmetic coding permits assigning a non-integer number of bits per symbol,
a very high degree of statistical adaptivity allows the coder to adjust to changing symbol statistics, and context selection
ensures that the statistical adaptivity is relevant to the specific data being coded. CABAC is used for encoding a broader
range of syntax elements than CAVLC, starting with the slice data payload level (while the higher-layer syntax elements
of the sequence, picture, and slice header levels are coded with fixed-length or Exp-Golomb coding). When CABAC is
in use, the macroblock type, intra prediction modes, motion vectors, reference picture indexes, residual transform
coefficients and several other syntax elements are coded with CABAC, leading to more compact encoding, whereas with
CAVLC only the transform coefficients are coded adaptively. However, the price to pay is that, given the broader
applicability of CABAC combined with its various contexts (e.g., 257 of them in the orginal version of the standard,
with some more added in FRExt), it is basically a serial engine that can be very compute intensive, especially for high
pixel and data rates.
Fig. 5: Generic block diagram of the CABAC entropy coding scheme.
The steps in the CABAC entropy coding scheme are depicted in Fig. 5. Suppose a symbol for an arbitrary syntax
element is given. In a first step, a suitable model is chosen according to a set of past observations of relevant syntax
elements; this is called context modeling. Different models are maintained for each syntax element (e.g., motion vectors
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and transform coefficients have different models). If a given symbol is non-binary valued, it will be mapped onto a
sequence of binary decisions, so-called bins, in a second step. This binarization is done according to a specified binary
tree structure similar to a VLC code. Then each bin is encoded with an adaptive binary arithmetic coding (BAC) engine
using probability estimates which depend on the specific context.
Starting fresh for each slice, the probability estimates associated with every context of CABAC are reset to a fixed set of
estimates (which, in the case of P, B, or SP slices can be one of four initial distributions as selected by the encoder).
After the encoding of each bin, the probability estimate in the context is updated to adjust upward the probability
estimate for the bin value that was encoded. Hence, the model keeps track of the actual statistics experienced during the
encoding process of each slice.
2.1.6. Lossless macroblock modes
When the fidelity of the coded video is high (i.e., when the quantization step size is very small), it is possible in certain
very rare instances of input picture content for the encoding process to actually cause data expansion rather than
compression. Furthermore, it is convenient for implementation reasons to have a reasonably-low identifiable limit on
the number of bits necessary to process in a decoder in order to decode a single macroblock. To address these issues, the
standard includes a "PCM" macroblock mode, in which the values of the samples are sent directly – without prediction,
transformation, or quantization. An additional motivation for support of this macroblock mode is to allow regions of the
picture to be represented without any loss of fidelity.
However, the PCM mode is clearly not efficient – indeed it is not intended to be efficient – rather, it is intended to be
simple and to impose a minimum upper bound on the number of bits that can be used to represent a macroblock with
sufficient accuracy. If one considers the bits necessary to indicate which mode has been selected for the macroblock, the
use of the PCM mode actually results in a minor degree of data expansion. When developing the FRExt amendment, it
was decided that a more effective means of lossless coding was desirable for the most demanding applications. FRExt
therefore also includes a transform-bypass lossless mode which uses prediction and entropy coding for encoding sample
values. When this mode is enabled (which can only be in Hi444P use), the meaning of the smallest selectable value of
the quantization parameter is redefined to invoke the lossless coding operation. The new lossless mode of FRExt is a
fairly efficient lossless video coder – although not the best method for lossless still-picture (intra) coding, it stands out as
extremely efficient when used together with inter-picture prediction (as described in the following sections).
In P-slices (predictively-coded, or "inter" slices), temporal (rather than spatial) prediction is used, by estimating motion
between pictures. Innovatively, motion can be estimated at the 16x16 macroblock level or by partitioning the
macroblock into smaller regions of luma size 16x8, 8x16, 8x8, 8x4, 4x8, or 4x4 (see Fig. 6). A distinction is made
between a macroblock partition, which corresponds to a luma region of size 16x16, 16x8, 8x16, or 8x8, and sub-
macroblock partition, which is a region of size 8x8, 8x4, 4x8, or 4x4. When (and only when) the macroblock partition
size is 8x8, each macroblock partition can be divided into sub-macroblock partitions. For example, it is possible within
a single macroblock to have both 8x8 and 4x8 partitionings, but not 16x8 and 4x8 partitionings. Thus the first row of
Fig. 6 shows the allowed macroblock partitions, and the sub-macroblock partitions shown in the second row can be
selected independently for each 8x8 region, but only when the macroblock partition size is 8x8 (the last partitioning
shown in the first row).
A distinct motion vector can be sent for each sub-macroblock partition. The motion can be estimated from multiple
pictures that lie either in the past or in the future in display order. The selection of which reference picture is used is
done on the macroblock partition level (so different sub-macroblock partitions within the same macroblock partition will
use the same reference picture). A limit on number of pictures used for the motion estimation is specified for each Level
(as described in section 4). To estimate the motion, pixel values are first interpolated to achieve quarter-pixel accuracy
for luma and up to 1/8th pixel accuracy for chroma. Interpolation of luma is performed in two steps – half-pixel and
then quarter-pixel interpolation. Half-pixel values are created by filtering with the kernel [1 -5 20 20 -5 1]/32,
horizontally and/or vertically. Quarter-pixel interpolation for luma is performed by averaging two nearby values
(horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) of half pixel accuracy. Chroma motion compensation uses bilinear interpolation
with quarter-pixel or one-eighth-pixel accuracy (depending on the chroma format). After interpolation, block-based
- 12 -
motion compensation is applied. As noted, however, a variety of block sizes can be considered, and a motion estimation
scheme that optimizes the trade-off between the number of bits necessary to represent the video and the fidelity of the
result is desirable.
If a macroblock has motion characteristics that allow its motion to be effectively predicted from the motion of
neighboring macroblocks, and it contains no non-zero quantized transform coefficients, then it is flagged as skipped.
This mode is identified as the Skip mode. Note that, unlike in prior standards, non-zero motion vectors can be inferred
when using the Skip mode in P slices.
1 macroblock partition of 2 macroblock partitions of 2 macroblock partitions of 4 sub-macroblocks of
16*16 luma samples and 16*8 luma samples and 8*16 luma samples and 8*8 luma samples and
associated chroma samples associated chroma samples associated chroma samples associated chroma samples
0 0 1
0 0 1
1 2 3
1 sub-macroblock partition 2 sub-macroblock partitions 2 sub-macroblock partitions 4 sub-macroblock partitions
of 8*8 luma samples and of 8*4 luma samples and of 4*8 luma samples and of 4*4 luma samples and
associated chroma samples associated chroma samples associated chroma samples associated chroma samples
Sub-macroblock 0 0 1
partitions 0 0 1
1 2 3
Fig. 6: Macroblock partitions for motion estimation and compensation
In addition to the use of motion compensation and reference picture selection for prediction of the current picture
content, weighted prediction can be used in P slices. When weighted prediction is used, customized weights can be
applied as a scaling and offset to the motion-compensated prediction value prior to its use as a predictor for the current
picture samples. Weighted prediction can be especially effective for such phenomena as "fade-in" and "fade-out"
After the temporal prediction, the steps of transform, quantization, scanning, and entropy coding are conceptually the
same as those for I-slices for the coding of residual data (the original minus the predicted pixel values). The motion
vectors and reference picture indexes representing the estimated motion are also compressed. To compress the motion
vectors, a median of the motion vectors from the neighboring three macroblock partitions or sub-macroblock partitions –
left, above and above right or left – is obtained and the difference from this median vector and the value of the current
motion vector is retained and entropy coded. Similarly, the selected reference frame indexes are also entropy coded.
In B-slices, two motion vectors, representing two estimates of the motion per macroblock partition or sub-macroblock
partition are allowed for temporal prediction. They can be from any reference picture in future or past in display order.
Again, a constraint on the number of reference pictures that can be used for motion estimation is specified in the Levels
definition. A weighted average of the pixel values in the reference pictures is then used as the predictor for each sample.
B-slices also have a special mode – Direct mode. In this mode the motion vectors for a macroblock are not explicitly
sent. The encoder can specify in the slice header either for the decoder to derive the motion vectors by scaling the
motion vector of the co-located macroblock in another reference picture or to derive it by inferring motion from
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The weighted prediction concept is further extended in the case of B slices. In addition to its use for scaling and
offsetting a prediction value, in B slices weighted prediction can enable encoder adjustment of the weighting used in the
weighted average between the two predictions that apply to bi-prediction. This can be especially effective for such
phenomena as "cross-fades" between different video scenes, as the bi-prediction allows flexible weighted blending of
content from such scenes.
Unlike in prior standards, pictures coded using B slices can be used as references for the decoding of subsequent pictures
in decoding order (with an arbitrary relationship to such pictures in display order).
2.4. SP and SI Slices
Switching P (SP) and Switching I (SI) slices are close cousins of the usual P and I slices, utilizing either temporal or
spatial prediction as before; however, their main virtue is that they can allow reconstruction of specific exact sample
values, even when using different reference pictures or a different number of reference pictures in the prediction process.
The main usefulness of this property (which naturally comes at some cost in coding efficiency when compared to the
usual P and I slices) is to allow bitstream switching, as well provide additional functionalities such as random access,
fast forward, reverse, and stream splicing. These tools are only available in the Extended Profile.
2.5. Deblocking Filter
As shown in Fig. 1, H.264/AVC uses an in-loop deblocking filter to reduce the blockiness introduced in a picture. The
filtered pictures are used to predict the motion for other pictures. The deblocking filter is an adaptive filter that adjusts
its strength depending upon compression mode of a macroblock (Intra or Inter), the quantization parameter, motion
vector, frame or field coding decision and the pixel values. When the quantization step size is decreased, the effect of
the filter is reduced, and when the quantization step size is very small, the filter is shut off. The filter can also be shut-
off explicitly or adjusted in overall strength by an encoder at the slice level.
2.6. Error Resilience Tools
A number of features of the codec design are designed to enable recovery of video fidelity in the presence of network
transmission errors or losses. For example, the NAL design, with its highly robust treatment of sequence and picture
header content (more properly called sequence and picture parameter sets in the standard), establishes a high degree of
robustness. The basic slice structure design adds further robustness, as each slice is designed to be completely
independent of all other slices of a picture in the basic decoding process (prior to application of the deblocking filter,
which can also be made independent by the encoder if desired). No content of any slice of a picture is used for the
prediction of syntax elements or sample values used in the decoding process of other slices in the picture. Additionally,
the encoder can select to specify that the prediction of intra macroblock sample values in P and B slices will not use
spatial neighbors that were not also coded in intra modes – adding further robustness against temporal error propagation.
The multiple-reference-picture support can also be used by an encoder to enable further resilience against data losses and
errors (basically by avoiding the use of any pictures as reference pictures in the prediction process if the fidelity of those
pictures may have been adversely affected by transmission errors or losses).
Going beyond these basic feature that are an inherent part of the design, there are essentially four additional tools that are
specified in the standard for further protecting the video bitstream from network transmission problems, which may
occur for example as a result of congestion overloads on wired networks or due to channel errors in wireless networks.
These tools are: 1) Flexible Macroblock Order (FMO), 2) Arbitrary Slide Order (ASO), and 3) Redundant Slices (RS),
and 4) Data Partitioning (DP). FMO can work to randomize the data prior to transmission, so that if a segment of data is
lost (e.g. a packet or several packets), the errors are distributed more randomly over the video pictures, rather than
causing corruption of a complete regions, making it more likely that relevant neighboring data is available for
concealment of lost content. (FMO also has a wide variety of other uses, which we do not discuss here for the sake of
brevity.) ASO allows slices of a picture to appear in any order for delay reduction (particularly for use on networks that
can deliver data packets out of order). RS offers more protection by reducing the severity of loss using redundant
representations of pictures. DP separates the coded slice data into separately-decodable sections according to how
important each type of data is to the resulting picture fidelity.
- 14 -
2.7. Color Space and Residual Color Transform Support
Like spatial transforms, color transforms to date have generally used floating-point operations and have thus been prone
to rounding errors. Typically, video is captured and displayed using the RGB (red, green, and blue) color space, but
these components are typically highly correlated. Further, the human visual system seems better matched to luma
(brightness) and chroma (hue and saturation) representations, rather than RGB. The usual approach has been to perform
a color transformation such as RGB-to-YCbCr before compression, and then code the video in the YCbCr domain, as in:
1 B Y 1 R Y
Y = KR * R + (1 – KR – KB) * G + KB * B; Cb = ; Cr = ;
2 1 K B
2 1 K R
with, e.g., KR = 0.2126, KB = 0.0722.
There are two problems with this approach. The first is that since the samples are actually represented using integers,
rounding error is introduced in both the forward and inverse color transformations. The second is that, because the
above transformation was not originally designed for digital video compression, it uses a sub-optimal trade-off between
the complexity of the transformation (with difficult-to-implement coefficient values such as 0.2126 and 0.0722) and
coding efficiency. Focusing on the second problem first, the FRExt amendment adds support for a new color space
called YCgCo (where the "Cg" stands for green chroma and the "Co" stands for orange chroma), which is much simpler
and typically has equal or better coding efficiency. It uses the following basic equations:
1 ( R B) 1 ( R B) ( R B)
Y= G ; Cg = G ; Co = .
2 2 2 2 2
While this reduces complexity (and may even improve coding efficiency) relative to using YCbCr conversion, it does
not, by itself, solve the problem of rounding error. However, rounding errors can be avoided if two additional bits of
accuracy are used in the chroma.
FRExt also goes further. Rather that adding two bits of precision to each sample, the FRExt amendment also includes a
variant of this scheme which does not introduce any conversion rounding error and also does not require adding
precision to the luma samples. The equations for the forward transformation in that case are as follows:
Co = R – B; t = B + ( Co >> 1 ); Cg = G – t; Y = t + ( Cg >> 1 );
where t is an intermediate temporary variable and ">>" denotes an arithmetic right shift operation. For the sake of
completeness (so that the reader can check for themselves to see whether the equations are exact integer inverses of each
other) we also provide the inverse transformation equations here as follows:
t = Y – ( Cg >> 1 ); G = t + Cg; B = t – ( Co >> 1 ); R = B + Co.
A 1-bit expansion of sample accuracy is still necessary to represent the transformed data in the YCgCo domain in this
case, but FRExt has another work-around for this as well. The solution is to retain the use of the RGB domain (in which
the sample depth is lower) for the input and output pictures and the stored reference pictures while bringing the above
forward and inverse color transformations inside the encoder and decoder for the processing of the residual data only.
This technique, called the residual color transform, eliminates color-space conversion error without significantly
increasing the overall complexity of the system. Its only drawback is that it can only be applied to 4:4:4 video, as its
operation depends on having both luma and chroma samples available for every sample location.
3. SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION
In addition to basic coding tools, the H.264/AVC standard enables sending extra supplemental information along with
the compressed video data. This often takes a form called "supplemental enhancement information" (SEI) or "video
usability information" (VUI) in the standard. SEI data is specified in a backward-compatible way, so that as new types
of supplemental information are specified, they can even be used with profiles of the standard that had been previously
specified before that definition. The first version of the standard includes the definition of a variety of such SEI data,
which we will not specifically review herein. Instead we focus only on what new types of backward-compatible
supplemental and auxiliary data are defined in the new FRExt amendment. These new types of data are as follows:
- 15 -
Auxiliary pictures, which are extra monochrome pictures sent along with the main video stream, that can
be used for such purposes as alpha blend compositing (specified as a different category of data than SEI).
Film grain characteristics SEI, which allows a model of film grain statistics to be sent along with the video
data, enabling an analysis-synthesis style of video enhancement wherein a synthesized film grain is
generated as a post-process when decoding, rather than burdening the encoder with the representation of
exact film grain during the encoding process.
Deblocking filter display preference SEI, which allows the encoder to indicate cases in which the pictures
prior to the application of the deblocking filter process may be perceptually superior to the filtered pictures.
Stereo video SEI indicators, which allow the encoder to identify the use of the video on stereoscopic
displays, with proper identification of which pictures are intended for viewing by each of the viewer's eyes.
4. PROFILES AND LEVELS
4.1. The Baseline, Main, and Extended Profiles in the First Version
H.264/AVC contains a rich set of video coding tools. Not all the coding tools are required for all the applications. For
example, sophisticated error resilience tools are not important for the networks with very little data corruption or loss.
Forcing every decoder to implement all the tools would make a decoder unnecessarily complex for some applications.
Therefore, subsets of coding tools are defined; these subsets are called Profiles. A decoder may choose to implement
only one subset (Profile) of tools, or choose to implement some or all profiles. The following three profiles were defined
in the original standard, and remain unchanged in the latest version:
Table 2 gives a high-level summary of the coding tools included in these profiles. The Baseline profile includes I and P-
slices, some enhanced error resilience tools (FMO, ASO, and RS), and CAVLC. It does not contain B, SP and SI-slices,
interlace coding tools or CABAC entropy coding. The Extended profile is a super-set of Baseline, adding B, SP and SI-
slices and interlace coding tools to the set of Baseline Profile coding tools and adding further error resilience support in
the form of data partitioning (DP). It does not include CABAC. The Main profile includes I, P and B-slices, interlace
coding tools, CAVLC and CABAC. It does not include enhanced error resilience tools (FMO, ASO, RS, and DP) or SP
At this writing, the Baseline Profile appears to be the primary choice for videoconferencing applications. The Main
profile, which received a great deal of initial implementation interest for entertainment-quality consumer applications,
now seems to be waning in interest due to the new definition of the High profile in FRExt.
Table 2: Profiles in Original H.264/AVC Standard
Coding Tools Baseline Main Extended
I and P Slices X X X
CAVLC X X X
B Slices X X
Interlaced Coding (PicAFF, MBAFF) X X
Enh. Error Resil. (FMO, ASO, RS) X X
Further Enh. Error Resil (DP) X
SP and SI Slices X
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4.2. The New High Profiles Defined in the FRExt Amendment
The FRExt amendment defines four new profiles:
High 10 (Hi10P)
High 4:2:2 (Hi422P)
High 4:4:4 (Hi444P)
All four of these profiles build further upon the design of the prior Main profile, and they all include three enhancements
of coding efficiency performance:
Adaptive macroblock-level switching between 8x8 and 4x4 transform block size
Encoder-specified perceptual-based quantization scaling matrices
Encoder-specified separate control of the quantization parameter for each chroma component
All of these profiles also support monochrome coded video sequences, in addition to typical 4:2:0 video. The difference
in capability among these profiles is primarily in terms of supported sample bit depths and chroma formats. However,
the High 4:4:4 profile additionally supports the residual color transform and predictive lossless coding features not found
in any other profiles. The detailed capabilities of these profiles are shown in Table 3.
Table 3: New Profiles in the H.264/AVC FRExt Amendment
Coding Tools High High 10 High 4:2:2 High 4:4:4
Main Profile Tools X X X X
4:2:0 Chroma Format X X X X
8 Bit Sample Bit Depth X X X X
8x8 vs. 4x4 Transform Adaptivity X X X X
Quantization Scaling Matrices X X X X
Separate Cb and Cr QP control X X X X
Monochrome video format X X X X
9 and 10 Bit Sample Bit Depth X X X
4:2:2 Chroma Format X X
11 and 12 Bit Sample Bit Depth X
4:4:4 Chroma Format X
Residual Color Transform X
Predictive Lossless Coding X
As can be seen in the table, among these new profiles and the prior Main profile there is a neatly-nested "onion-like"
structure of capabilities – with each "higher" profile also supporting all capabilities of the lower ones. Indeed, the
standard also requires "higher" profiles to be capable of decoding all bitstreams encoded for the lower nested profiles.
At the time of this writing, the High profile seems to be overtaking the Main profile as the primary choice for broadcast
and other entertainment-quality applications, and High 4:2:2 is expected to be used frequently in studio environments.
The key aspect making the High profile of such intense near-term interest is that it has very little (almost no) added
implementation complexity relative to the prior Main profile, while improving compression capability in both subjective
and objective terms (with quantization scaling matrices and transform block-size switching, respectively) and increasing
encoder control flexibility (with support of separate quantization parameters for the two chroma components).
It is important to constrain the processing power and the memory size needed for implementation. Picture size and
frame rate play the main role in influencing those parameters. As shown in Table 5, H.264/AVC defines 16 different
Levels, tied mainly to the picture size and frame rate. Levels also provide constraints on the number of reference
pictures and the maximum compressed bit rate that can be used. The level identified as "1b" was added in the FRExt
amendment, primarily to address the expressed needs of some 3G wireless environments. Because the FRExt profiles
are specified for more demanding high-fidelity applications, the bit rate capabilities are increased for the FRExt profiles
as shown in Table 4, which specifies multipliers for the fourth column of Table 5.
- 17 -
Note: In the standard, Levels specify the maximum frame size in terms of only the total number of pixels/frame.
Horizontal and Vertical maximum sizes are not specified except for constraints that horizontal and vertical sizes can not
be more than Sqrt(maximum frame size * 8). If, at a particular level, the picture size is less than the one in the table,
then a correspondingly larger number of reference pictures (up to 16 frames) can be used for motion estimation and
compensation. Similarly, instead of specifying a maximum frame rate at each level, a maximum sample (pixel) rate, in
terms of macroblocks per second, is specified. Thus if the picture size is smaller than the typical pictures size in Table 5,
then the frame rate can be higher than that in Table 5, all the way up to a maximum of 172 frames/sec.
Table 4: Compressed Bit Rate Multipliers for FRExt Profiles (see Table 5 column 4)
FRExt Profile Bit Rate Multiplier
High 10 3
High 4:2:2 4
High 4:4:4 4
Table 5: Levels in H.264/AVC
Level Number Typical Picture Typical frame rate Maximum Maximum number of
Size compressed bit rate reference frames for
(for VCL) in typical picture size
1 QCIF 15 64 kbps 4
1b QCIF 15 128 kbps 4
1.1 CIF or QCIF 7.5 (CIF) / 30 (QCIF) 192 kbps 2 (CIF) / 9 (QCIF)
1.2 CIF 15 384 kbps 6
1.3 CIF 30 768 kbps 6
2 CIF 30 2 Mbps 6
2.1 HHR (480i or 576i) 30 / 25 4 Mbps 6
2.2 SD 15 4 Mbps 5
3 SD 30 / 25 10 Mbps 5
3.1 1280x720p 30 14 Mbps 5
3.2 1280x720p 60 20 Mbps 4
4 HD Formats 60p / 30i 20 Mbps 4
(720p or 1080i)
4.1 HD Formats 60p / 30i 50 Mbps 4
(720p or 1080i)
4.2 1920x1080p 60p 50 Mbps 4
5 2kx1k 72 135 Mbps 5
5.1 2kx1k or 4kx2k 120 / 30 240 Mbps 5
5. SIMULATION RESULTS
5.1. Performance of the First Version of the H.264/AVC
Fig. 7 shows some comparisons of the coding efficiency of MPEG-2, MPEG-4 Part 2 and MPEG-4 Part 10
(H.264/AVC) for the original version of the H.264/AVC specification when tested on a couple of example video
sequences. These test results are provided courtesy of the Advanced Technology group of Motorola BCS. In these
simulations, no rate control was used and Rate-Distortion (R-D) curves corresponding to encoding with different
standards are presented. These are example plots and the results will vary from one encoder to another and from one test
video sequence to another. From these plots we see that MPEG-4 Part 2 Advanced Simple Profile (ASP), completed in
- 18 -
1999, provided about 1.5 times coding gain over MPEG-2. And MPEG-4 Part 10 (H.264/AVC), as completed in 2003,
provides about 2 times coding gain over MPEG-2 from Rate-Distortion point of view. Note that here the I-frame refresh
rate is set at every 15 frames. Since advanced motion estimation is a key strength of H.264/AVC, these results actually
underestimate its relative merits for broader applications not needing such high intra refresh rates. There are other
aspects of the encoding methods used for H.264/AVC in these tests which are also well known to be sub-optimal
(particularly its conventional use of non-reference B pictures), so these plots show a conservative estimate.
For the original version of H.264/AVC, most tests seem to show about a 2:1 gain or better in coding efficiency for the
new standard, relative to MPEG-2. For example, MPEG performed tests that it called "verification tests" in late 2003,
and those tests  showed similar relative fidelity, using testing methods described in . The tests done by MPEG
measured subjective video quality, unlike what is shown in Fig. 7 (with subjective testing being a better test method, but
more difficult to perform rigorously).
M AVC(N M
P4 =15, =3) 32
28 MP4 AVC (N=15, M=3)
M (N M
P2 =15, =3)
24 28 MP2 (N=15, M=3)
22 M ASP(N M
P4 =15, =3) 26 MP4 ASP (N=15, M=3)
0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500 4000 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000
Bitrate (kb/s) Bitrate (kb/s)
Fig. 7(a): M & C sequence at CIF (352x288) resolution (b): Bus sequence at CIF resolution
26 AVC (N=15, M=3)
MP4 AVC (N=15, M=3)
MP2 (N=15, M=3)
24 26 MP2 (N=15, M=3)
MP4 (N=15, M=3) MP4 (N=15, M=3)
0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 500 800 1100 1400 1700 2000
Fig. 7(c): M & C sequence at HHR (352x480) resolution (d): Bus sequence at HHR resolution
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M o b il an d C ale n d ar (7 20x480)
M P E G -4 A V C
26 MPEG 2
400 2400 4400 6400 8400
Bitra te (kb/s)
Fig. 7(e): M & C sequence at BT.601 (720x480) resolution
Fig. 7: (a) – (e) Comparison of R-D curves for MPEG-2 (MP2), MPEG-4 Part 2 ASP (MP4 ASP) and
H.264/AVC (MP4 AVC). I frames were inserted every 15 frames (N=15) and two non-reference B
frames per reference I or P frame were used (M=3).
5.2. Performance of FRExt High Profile
As FRExt is still rather new, and as some of the benefit of FRExt is perceptual rather than objective, it is somewhat more
difficult to measure its capability. One relevant data point is the result of a subjective quality evaluation done by the
Blu-ray Disc Association (BDA). The summary results are reproduced in Fig. 8 below (with permission) from . This
test, conducted on 24 frame/sec film content with 1920x1080 progressive-scanning, shows the following nominal results
(which should not be considered rigorously statistically proven):
The High profile of FRExt produced nominally better video quality than MPEG-2 when using only one-
third as many bits (8 Mbps versus 24 Mbps)
The High profile of FRExt produced nominally transparent (i.e., difficult to distinguish from the original
video without compression) video quality at only 16 Mbps.
The quality bar (3.0), considered adequate for use on high-definition packaged media in this organization, was
significantly surpassed using only 8 Mbps. Again also, there were well-known sub-optimalities in the H.264/AVC
coding method used in these tests. Thus, the bit rate can likely be reduced significantly below 8 Mbps while remaining
above the 3.0 quality bar establishing a quality sufficient to call acceptable "HD" in that demanding application.
Mean 4.00 3.90
3.5 3.65 3.71
H.264/AVC H.264/AVC H.264/AVC H.264/AVC Original video MPEG-2
High Profile High Profile High Profile High Profile 24 Mbps
8 Mbps 12 Mbps 16 Mbps 20 Mbps DVHS
Fig. 8: Perceptual Test of FRExt High Profile Capability by Blu-ray Disc Association 
The result of an example objective (PSNR) comparison test performed by FastVDO is shown in Fig. 9. These objective
results confirm the strong performance of the High profile. (Again, sub-optimal uses of B frames make the plotted
performance conservative for FRExt.)
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0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20 22
Fig. 9: Objective Performance of FRExt High Profile vs. MPEG-2 on a test 720p clip "BigShips".
(These objective results are consistent with the subjective results in Fig. 8, i.e, 8 Mb/s of FRExt
outperforms 20 Mb/s of MPEG-2.)
The new video standard known as H.264/AVC presents a rich collection of state-of-the-art video coding capabilities that
can provide interoperable video broadcast or communication with degrees of capability that far surpass those of prior
standards. With the new FRExt amendment, and especially the new High Profile, H.264/AVC further bolsters its
position as the premier design for standardized video compression. We believe these technologies provide a hitherto
unavailable set of cost/performance points that will have a powerful impact on both consumer and professional video
applications in the years to come.
 ITU-T, “Video codec for audiovisual services at px64 kbits/s,” ITU-T Rec. H.261 v1: Nov 1990, v2: Mar.
 ISO/IEC JTC 1, “Coding of moving pictures and associated audio for digital storage media at up to about 1.5
Mbit/s – Part 2: Video,” ISO/IEC 11172 (MPEG-1), Nov. 1993.
 ITU-T and ISO/IEC JTC 1, “Generic coding of moving pictures and associated audio information – Part 2:
Video,” ITU-T Rec. H.262 and ISO/IEC 13818-2 (MPEG-2), Nov. 1994 (with several subsequent amendments
 ITU-T, “Video coding for low bit rate communication,” ITU-T Rec. H.263; v1: Nov. 1995, v2: Jan. 1998,
v3: Nov. 2000.
 ISO/IEC JTC 1, “Coding of audio-visual objects – Part 2: Visual,” ISO/IEC 14496-2 (MPEG-4 Part 2), Jan.
1999 (with several subsequent amendments and corrigenda).
 Joint Video Team of ITU-T and ISO/IEC JTC 1, “Draft ITU-T Recommendation and Final Draft International
Standard of Joint Video Specification (ITU-T Rec. H.264 | ISO/IEC 14496-10 AVC),” document JVT-G050r1,
May 2003; technical corrigendum 1 documents JVT-K050r1 (non-integrated form) and JVT-K051r1 (integrated
form), March 2004; and Fidelity Range Extensions documents JVT-L047 (non-integrated form) and JVT-L050
(integrated form), July 2004.
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 T. Wedi and Y. Kashiwagi, “Subjective quality evaluation of H.264/AVC FRExt for HD movie content,” Joint
Video Team document JVT-L033, July, 2004.
 ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29/WG 11 (MPEG), “Report of the formal verification tests on AVC/H.264,” MPEG
document N6231, Dec., 2003 (publicly available at http://www.chiariglione.org/mpeg/quality_tests.htm).
 T. Oelbaum, V. Baroncini, T. K. Tan, and C. Fenimore, “Subjective quality assessment of the emerging
AVC/H.264 video coding standard,” International Broadcasting Conference (IBC), Sept., 2004.
 C. Fenimore, V. Baroncini, T. Oelbaum, and T. K. Tan, “Subjective testing methodology in MPEG video
verification,” SPIE Conference on Applications of Digital Image Processing XXVII, Aug., 2004.
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